A manager asks more questions – provides less feedback
A major role of any manager is to support others in getting stuff done. This involves instructing, advising, coaching, and even cheerleading.
The manager’s coaching role may be the most valuable impact they can have on an employee in the organization. The success of a manager’s coaching role usually comes down to the questions they ask. In mentoring employees, a great leader will ask quality questions long before providing feedback.
Before I learned about ‘coaching questions’ I was quick to provide advice through feedback to students and clients who were struggling with a challenge. I still have to catch myself from doing this because it is in our human nature to want to fix things for people, especially when we feel we know the answer.
Often, we instinctually do this by blurting out the answer or at least our viewpoint on how they could solve their struggle. We want to end their (and perhaps the team’s) pain as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, telling them what you think is the answer is not the most effective way to solve their problem. In the best case, telling them will fix the situation in the short-term. In the worst case (and most often), your words will go in one ear and out the other.
The most effective problem solving tool a manager can use is asking them open-ended ‘coaching questions’, allowing the employee to discover the solution for him or herself. It is not as important that they come up with the answer you had in mind. The most important thing is that they came up with the answer themselves.
Most questions in a conversation are commonly asked in order to solicit information. However, with a ‘coaching question’, the answers are of secondary importance. This type of question is used to let the coach know that the coachee has the necessary information.
Coaching questions are typically open-ended questions as they require descriptive answers, which promote awareness, whereas closed questions (yes or no questions) are too absolute and often close the door on the exploration of further details.
The goal of coaching questions is to have the person come up with the answer to their problem themselves. Whether you know the answer or not, the most valuable thing you can do is help pull the answer out of them. We are more likely to act on things we conceptualize rather than someone telling us.
The next time someone comes to you looking for advice to a problem, instead of blurting out what you think is the best answer try asking them several open-ended questions to see if they can come to the same conclusion themselves. Utilize questions that include words like how, what, when, who, how much, and how many.
No Leading Questions Please
Asking leading questions can indicate that you have an agenda or a comment you want them to say. It will cause the coachee to lose trust and reduce the value of the coaching session. If the open-ended questions are not working to help the coachee discover a solution to their challenge and you feel you have a few brilliant ideas to help them, instead of asking leading questions ask if you can offer a few suggestions. This should be a last resort as ideally they will come up with the answer themselves through your strategic line of questioning.
(Adapted from the book Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore)
Here is an example of a few good coaching questions you can use the next time someone asks for your advice.
- What else? Used at the end of most answers will evoke more.
- If you knew that answer what would it be? Allows the coachee to look beyond the blockage.
- What would the consequence of that be for you or for others?
- What is the hardest / most challenging part of this for you?
- What would you gain/lose by doing/saying that?
If people are not used to you asking coaching questions or you use them at inappropriate times, you can appear condescending. If a meeting time is set and someone asks you what time the meeting is, don’t respond with “what time do you think we should meet”. You need to be specific with your questioning. You don’t want to get into the “What do you mean?”, “What do you mean”? circle of questioning.
Not only will using effective coaching questions help you become a more effective manager, they can also help you become a better parent and spouse.
Action: This week test out a few coaching questions the next time someone asks for your advice or comes to you with a struggle. No matter how easy it is for you, don’t give them your answer right way.
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure!
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.
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